In this third part of my interview with Simon Mason, we talk about how interesting and life affirming it actually was to be part of a tribe. We were mods, OK kiddie mods, borrowing each others two tone shoes and wearing our Grandad’s trilby hats (or maybe that was just me) but we felt we belonged.
Simon is still a pretty decent modernist. While I still retain some of the sensibilities and will always love scooters and Fred Perry, I am a bit lapsed.
We then visit the darkness of his abuse and how it came about.
We start though, with the famous cassette which I gave him and which led him to be a mod. Though interestingly it wasn’t all mod music, The Ruts were on there and The Buzzcocks.
MJ: You got the magic cassette?
SM: The cassette! That cassette you gave me. Do you know what? It’s amazing what you remember, why some things are seared into your memory and some things aren’t. I remember walking past your brother’s room and he’s listening to a cassette player – probably The Jam and he’s got that week’s Smash Hits and he’s learning the lyrics to the song.
MJ: That’s what we used to do at home. We had competitions to remember the words, me and our John.
SM: That memory is so strong.
Where I am right then, I need something, I need to belong. And that’s what I got. Safety in numbers, right? We’re a tribe. We had the whole mod revival thing. You had mods, skinheads, rude boys, rockers, rockabillies, various kids trying stuff out, all crammed together.
MJ: It’s interesting that the tribe thing is dead now. There are very few kids doing that. Everything is so amorphous now and I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing for kids in our society.
SM: No, it’s not. It’s rubbish. It makes me sad. When we live in an age where people think a pair of tracksuit bottoms and Reebok Classics are it. As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t even be fucked to get dressed properly, what else are you going to give a fuck about?
MJ: Yeah but that’s it. There’s a slavish devotion to brands now. They’d rather be head to toe in Super Dry. We would look for parkas but it didn’t matter what was on the label. It was the look – get the look right. We weren’t slaves to a brand. It was the opposite.
So you’re starting to equip yourself with the things that you need to get through. You’ve got clothes you’re interested in, you’ve got the music, so you can always take that with you. And then you get abused. At school.
I know you allude to this in the book, but do you think you were just unlucky? Or vulnerable and unlucky?
SM: I certainly wasn’t lucky was I? (Laughs).
MJ: Ha, I mean do you think it could have been somebody else?
SM: It wasn’t just me.
MJ: Well absolutely. In terms of cards being dealt, I think the headmaster I had was totally different, very good in fact. I know that in my bubble, life was different. OK, I got six of the best in the first week and was told not to turn around while it happened. Make of that what you will. For me it was just the pain of that itself, little tiny bits of abuse, I suppose, but not seen as abuse then of course.
So I wasn’t trying to be flippant when I said were you unlucky, just comparing our experiences.
SM: No, of course not. From what I know of people like that and it’s not something I’ve studied, a predatory paedophile is not a snatcher. Not someone who’s going to snatch someone as they walk down a road. It’s kind of thought out. Which makes it even more evil and more despicable.
The sexual abuse really started after my Grandfather died. He’d come to live with us in Weston Super Mare when my Dad was still alive. So I had Mum, Sister, Grandad at home and then Grandad died 18 months after my father. So I’m the only male left in the family.
And that grooming process begins. I’ve spoken a bit about it. It starts with ‘oh come to the office, here have a cigarette’ you know, ‘have a whisky – you can trust me, you’re special’ all that stuff. I don’t think sophisticated is the word but it’s a tried and tested modus operandi for people like that – they pull you in.
You’re looking for a living, breathing role model. It’s all very well having Paul Weller plastered all over your wall but you’re not going to meet him are you? Not yet!
MJ: Little did you know.
SM: You want someone. Someone to say ‘do you know what mate, it’s going to be alright’. Especially when you’ve tried really hard. I’d been in the gymnasium all the time. I wanted to be in the cricket team. I wanted to be in the rugby team. And I was. Simply because when you’re there 24 hours a day, you’ve got more time to practice. I tried really hard.